Friday, August 29, 2008

Obama Passes One Test But Fails Another

Well, I just about managed to stay awake for most of Obama's speech, but having got up this morning with what I imagine a hangover feels like I'm not sure I'm in the right state of mind to pass judgement on it. Anyway, here goes...

I think he just about avoided the Sheffield moment, although when he started by saying 'Thank you' and 'Thank you so much' repeatedly - I think I counted 70 mentions - while the crowd applauded him at the outset, I did wonder how it was going to turn out.

Obama is almost physically incapable of giving a bad speech. While the rhetoric in this speech did not match the soaring heights of previous speeches, it was always going to be difficult in a stadium environment. I thought he concentrated too much on individual anecdote - "the factory worker in Des Moines" or "the woman I met in Dallas". I can see the logic of doing this - showing empathy with individuals and their personal circumstances - but you can over do it. And he did.

The other thing he 'overdid' was the negative attacks on his opponent. According to ConservativeHome he mentioned John McCain 22 times, 21 of which were negative. Of course you need to attack your opponent in a speech like this, but somehow this attack didn't really hit home. When he said:
John McCain may want to follow Osama bin laden to the gates of hell, but he won't even follow him to the cave in which he lives...

... I scratched my head in bemusement. Was I alone in not having a clue what he meant by that?

Like many people, I was hoping to emerge from Obama's speech with a better idea of what he would actually do as President, rather than what his general approach would be. I admit I fell asleep for the last five minutes (!), but up to that point I had heard little that I hadn't heard before.

Obama doesn't need my vote - I don't have one. But I suspect there are many Americans who have a similar opinion of Obama to me. People who I would describe as 'soft Republicans' - people who were moved by Ronald Reagan's rhetoric and signed on to his optimistic view of life and the world. I wanted to be persuaded by Obama. I have already made clear that for the first time in my life I could consider not supporting a Republican candidate. But over the last few weeks I have slowly but surely been drifting back to the Republican camp having failed to be convinced by Obama.

Of course I recognise the historic moment of an African American getting the nomination. I applaud Obama's political campaigning ability. But for me there is something missing from his appeal. I love his optimism. I love his speaking style. But I have yet to fall in love with his policies. Largely because I still don't have a clue what they are. And he's only got 69 days to tell me.


Dick the Prick said...

I waited up (sad? yes, I know). The thing it most reminded me of was a West Wing episode and Gil Scott Heron just identifying political complexities. Hmm, 6/10. Still get a bit of an impression that i'm just watching a right on 6th former.

Anonymous said...

I scratched my head in bemusement. Was I alone in not having a clue what he meant by that?

Rest assured Ian, in that you are not alone.

Anonymous said...

Does this you would rather George Bush Jr won the 2000 election rather than Al Gore? Reagan i get but Bush Jr???

Seems odd for a political moderate such as yourself to side with a man with so little gravitas and so many dodgy backers.. but maybe after William Hague and John Major you forgot what a descent leader looked like.

Unsworth said...

Yes but is this election really about policies?

Will the next British election be about policies, for that matter?

This is about personalities, full stop.

Anonymous said...

Obama - Tax, spend, welfare, a bit less war (maybe).
McCain - Welfare, war, spend, a bit less tax (maybe).

Anonymous said...

Iain says "Was I alone in not having a clue what he meant by that?"

Iain, yes, you do appear to be clueless.


Do you think that Barack Obama might have meant -.... what the hell is McCain doing supporting (and wanting to perpetuate) a pointless, illegal and misguided war in Iraq whilst largely ignoring Afghanistan? Go figure.

doh. It's not rocket science.

Like I said yesterday, the problem is that you just don't 'get it'. But tens of millions of others do get it - bigtime.

I feel secure in the knowledge that you usually back losers anyway (probably you'll back McCain this time).

I'm sure Obama will win this election by a landslide.

Iain, we'll agree to disagree on Barack Obama. I can vote for Obama and I will vote for Obama.

His speech last night was masterpiece and I'm sure there's not a politician in the world who doesn't wish that they could connect with people like Obama can connect (albeit not with you).

Anonymous said...


From what I read McCain has been remorselessly negative and this has been effective for him. In an ideal world no one would use negative campaining, however we don't. McCain will pull no punches, why should Obama?

Iain Dale said...

Canvas, since you use the word "might" I don't think you understand what he meant either. And to accuse McCain of ignoring Afghanistan is incredible.

Anonymous said...

I use the word 'might' because I'm nudging you.


Senator McCain said recently that "Afghanistan is not in trouble because of our diversion to Iraq." Obama could not disagree more.

get it now?

Anonymous said...


As a Tory, surely you must have noticed the irony of attacking Obama for sounding nice but having no policies?

Events dear boy, events said...

Get real. He does not have to appeal to you. But then you are interested otherwise why stay up? If you are hooked on the 72 year old McCain then that speaks volumes. Then I remember you backed David Davis and looked what happened to him! In your case it is not events dear boy, but judgement old son!!

Iain Dale said...

Canvas, I agree with McCain on that and Obama's comments - if your theory is correct - are a disgrace.

Anonymous said...

Iain, i'm glad you mentioned that strange Bin Laden line. The BBC's nauseatingly-pro-Obama Justin Webb described it as a 'great line'!

What Obama essentially suggested was that McCain knows where Bin Laden is hiding and has done nothing about it! Both incredible and ridiculous.

Iain Dale said...

Howard, er, that's exactly what I said in my post. He doesn't have to appeal to me. Of course I am interested. Politics is what I do. I watched Kerry's speech in 2004 to.

I am by no means hooked on McCain, as my post (and many previous posts) makes clear. Did you actually bother to read what I wrote?

Anonymous said...

Iain, a "disgrace"?
Have you really thought this through carefully?

Dick the Prick said...

Canvas lass. Are you on the payroll or just a nutter?

Anonymous said...

@unsworth, why shouldn't America's presidential election be about personality, not policy? The president is not a tyrant. He does not rule by decree. Congress writes the laws, not the president, and even members of Congress of the same party don't necessarily follow their president's lead.

What a US voter needs to know above all else is what sort of personality and approach a presidential candidate has. Many challenges will emerge, crises will occur, and a president response will not be governed by policies, but by his/her personality.

If there ever was a case for an election based purely on personality, not policy, this is it.

Anonymous said...

Iain, please re-read this bit of Obama's speech from last night and then tell me what exactly is 'disgraceful' about it?

Barack Obama: ..."If John McCain wants to have a debate about who has the temperament, and judgement, to serve as the next Commander-in-Chief, that's a debate I'm ready to have.

For while Senator McCain was turning his sights to Iraq just days after 9/11, I stood up and opposed this war, knowing that it would distract us from the real threats we face.

When John McCain said we could just muddle through in Afghanistan, I argued for more resources and more troops to finish the fight against the terrorists who actually attacked us on 9/11, and made clear that we must take out Osama bin Laden and his lieutenants if we have them in our sights.

John McCain likes to say that he'll follow bin Laden to the Gates of Hell but he won't even go to the cave where he lives.

And today, as my call for a time frame to remove our troops from Iraq has been echoed by the Iraqi government and even the Bush Administration, even after we learned that Iraq has a $79 billion surplus while we're wallowing in deficits, John McCain stands alone in his stubborn refusal to end a misguided war.

That's not the judgement we need. That wont keep America safe. We need a president who can face the threats of the future, not keep grasping at the ideas of the past.

You don't defeat a terrorist network that operates in eighty countries by occupying Iraq.

You don't protect Israel and deter Iran just by talking tough in Washington.

You can't truly stand up for Georgia when you've strained our oldest alliances.

If John McCain wants to follow George Bush with more tough talk and bad strategy, that is his choice but it is not the change we need."

Sounds reasonable and sensible to me. What don't you get?

Anonymous said...

Iain's analysis F

Anonymous said...

Iain -

I'm pretty sure Obama was talking about Pakistan. During the primaries, when he was trying to look tough on foreign affairs, he threatened to intervene with force, and if necessary without Pakistani consent, if intelligence pointed to bin Laden being holed up in the mountains. See for example . I can't remember McCain's exact response at the time, but it wouldn't be a surprise if he backed the Musharraf administration and criticised Obama for it.

Although Obama is generally a lot less irresponsibly rah-rah than McCain when it comes to foreign policy (bomb, bomb Iran etc.), this was a frightening thing to suggest and I'm sorry he isn't letting go of it.

Anonymous said...

It was great speech. You lot always attack for his high rhetoric but when Obama shows he has a nuts and bolts speech with some feisty attacks in his bag as well you still complain.

It is bizarre that Iain can possible accuse Obama of being a disgrace when you compare that to the ads McCain is running most of which are aimed at suggesting Obama isn't an American or a patriot.

Open your eyes Iain.

Anonymous said...

Iain -

Also, I'm intrigued... Didn't you hear the tax cut proposal? And isn't that pretty much your kind of thing? That wasn't the only policy substance in the speech, either. I find it a bit strange that you still don't know what his policies are - they're reasonably well set out on the website and elsewhere.

If you need a hand let's try health care. Obama wants to retain private insurance but move to guaranteed eligibility, to mandate coverage for children and to create an extra federal programme for the uninsured. He also proposes a tax credit (max 50%) for small businesses who pay employees' premiums. The whole plan is costed at between 50 and 65 billion dollars, to be paid for by scrapping the Bush tax cuts on $250k+ earners.

Agree with it, disagree with it, do whatever you want. But if you don't know what's on offer by now, you haven't been listening.

Anonymous said...

errm - you can pretty much find out what Obama's policies on tax, healthcare, Iraq, Afghanistan, gays and lesbians etc by typing "obama policies" in google.

As for the John McCain comments in general the Democrats are frequently criticised for not taking it up to the Republicans. This time they did and they tried to do it without resorting to personal attacks - a point Obama actually made. As for the specific comment do you really need someone to explain that little piece of rhetoric? (Hint: walking the walk versus talking the talking viz Afghanistan and Al Queda)

If you read the summaries of his policies you'll see he makes references back to them in his speeches. If someone could come up with a workable healthcare policy in the US that can be summarised in a couple of sentences do you think they wouldnt have come up with it by now? Arent you a bit of a policy wonk anyway? You should love reading this stuff and explaining to your Tory readership what it means - good or bad - rather than just keep saying you dont know what he stands for or vague references to "higher taxes". Have a go.

It wasnt his best speech but it was definitely good enough and even Obama at 90% is awesome.

David Anthony said...

Really Iain, it's all repeated in full the morning after on BBC Parliament. No need to wait up.

Anonymous said...

Obama is an airhead. The Britney Spear of politics.

Anyone who saw him mumble and fumble his way through Saddleback he's gonna come a cropper as soon as he goes one on one with McCain.

All the talk is that McCain has picked Sarah Palin as his VP. That will really throw the wohle thing wide open if he does.

Anonymous said...

Up here in the Outer Hebrides, we noted that there were 3 times as many people in the stadium as there are residents in these islands. And 586 times more people inside than there are on my island.

I thought it veered dangerously close to being a U2 concert at first and, yes, the "thank you" bit was repetitive. The meat of the talk was specific policy, which was good.

As for being negative on McCain; about time. And still not enough; the Rove machine hasn't even hit second gear yet and the Democrats will be hit with much, much worse.

Anonymous said...

I listened to Obama. He sounded right to me. Except attacking Obama and staying in Iraq getting more American soldiers killed and letting Bin Laden wander from cave to cave in Afghanistan, McCain is cagey about policies. Not far from 1600 Pennsylvania avenue, blacks live in shanty homes. Even those with insurance are not sure whether the treatment they require for a new disease will be funded. Let us wait and see what McCain will offer. The usual wrapping up in flag, 9/11 and Georgia, cutting taxes for those who are already very rich etc.. etc.. which is not bad if he spells out other policies. He will not as his neocon and religious constituencies will brand him as 'liberal'.

McCain is simply too old. This is a job for a younger person. I say this as a 65 year old!

Anonymous said...

This will become a much much dirtier and tougher election before it is finished, and Obama will suffer for it. For months he has been able to set out a vision for a different America without the need to avoid the mud-slinging of policy debate. After all, a clean suit, cure kids and a winsome smile does win over voters.

Now, though, things are about to get much rougher. If I were McCain, I'd try to turn the tables on Obama. Were I McCain I'd talk vision and have my attack dogs (and here the key is having a high profile and gnarly VP candidate) go for the Obama policy programme - such as it is - in excruciating detail, forcing Obama away from the rhetoric and onto the best ground for me, the detail.

The problem in all of this for Mr McCain is that his real enemy is the media. Obama is a story, McCain old news. The media want Obama to win to make a great story. Mr McCain must find a way to make them positively saliate at the prospect of a different story - that the prophet has feet of clay, and just wrong.

There is still time to for anything else to unsettle the election. I am still backing a revelation about Obama's past to come back and damage him - then again, how many stories about virulently anti-American pastors does it take to kill of his chances?

Anonymous said...

Iain says: "I was hoping to emerge from Obama's speech with a better idea of what he would actually do as President,"

Iain, did Obama forget something in particular last night?

Were the following points not enough for you?

* John McCain
* foreign policy
* the economy
* taxes
* fuel
* education
* pensions
* abortion
* gun control
* same sex marriages
* immigration
* individual responsibility
* equal pay
* patriotism
* his background
* change
* the American spirit

Aren't these the issues on voters minds? Couldn't you have written a more fair minded and thoughtful analysis?

Anonymous said...

The following is BBC Have You Say's most recommended posting on Obama's speech. It ecoes the comments of scores of Americans among the most recommended posts:

"I am a 63 year old Republican. I have voted Republican since Goldwater. I voted twice for Bush, and I apologize to the entire world for that.

Obama's speech was the most incredible I have heard in my lifetime. I will proudly cast my vote for him, and I pray that my country will follow my example.

God bless the World.

Jim, Oregon, United States

Anonymous said...

"John McCain may want to follow Osama Bin Laden to the gates of hell, but he won't even follow him to the cave in which he lives..."

How can you be bemused- he was referring to McCain's stump speech where he tries to bulk himself up on national security by saying he will 'follow Bin Laden to the gates of hell', versus his continued support for the Iraq war which has been a major distraction to the US's supposed priority after 9/11 (and the reason they went into Afghanistan)- i.e. to capture Bin Laden.

As for him being negative- the entire convention was criticised for not hitting hard enough at McCain- something you will certainly not see next week at the RNC convention.

Of the last 6 McCain adds 5 have been direct, personal attacks on Obama. Of the last 6 Obama adds 2 have been negative towards McCain- and this is not to mention the constant non-tv criticism McCain (and the 527 groups who support him) have made against Obama.

Finally- in terms of policy, firstly its important to remember that the president doesn’t get to make the law- as Obama has said before the role of the president it to set the tone and direction of the country and it is for congress to choose the specific wording of the laws it seeks to enact. Therefore what Obama said (about tax cuts for 95%, about foreign oil, about college education) was incredibly substantive. Furthermore, if he had gone into minute detail of his, for instance, healthcare plan, it would have made for a very dull speech- which the media, yourself included I suspect, would criticise as him not living up to his usual standards or 'chocking'.

Point is- if you want to criticise negative/no policy/ incoherent and illogical speeches calm down- they will all come next week. :-)

Anonymous said...

I have to say your view of Obama's attacks on McCain weren't shared by commentators on CNN or MSNBC after the speech. Possibly this was a liberal conspiracy.

Okay, Keith Olbermann and Chris Matthews are in the tank for Obama. But their point on MSNBC was that, by questioning whether McCain had the 'temperament' to be POTUS, the dem nominee was finally taking the fight to the republicans in a professional way.

After ineptly handling incoming attacks since he came back from his Hawaii vacation, it's about time he moved his tanks on to McCain's lawn, surely?

Yak40 said...

Barack Obama: ..."If John McCain wants to have a debate about who has the temperament, and judgement, to serve as the next Commander-in-Chief, that's a debate I'm ready to have.

Then why won't Obama debate McCain in an unscripted to-and-fro "townhall" ? He has consistently made excuse after excuse not to do it. Why ? I suspect it's because that without a teleprompter he's almost inarticulate as we've seen. Anyone can read off a screen and speechify, it's not hard. The test is how they think on their feet, handle themselves one on one. Obama has shown he's very thin skinned indeed when it comes to criticism.

As for Obama the military strategist, give me a break, he's clueless on both the people and the concepts.

Anonymous said...

This speech wasn't really for detailed policy. It was meant to be a set piece to showcase Obama to the world. But even for me it was a tad vague.
Anyway, we'll know for sure later today what Obama's chances are. If Palin or Meg Whitman (ebay lady) are chosen today, then it's over.
African Americans shouldn't despair though - Deval Patrick 2012! He's actually run something, is thoroughly part of the African American history and suffering and can't be portrayed as a divisive figure.

idle said...

Is Obama an African American? Or is he half African, half American, which is different in loads of ways?

Not that I care. All I want to know is what he'd do as leader of the free world.

And after the speech, I'm no further on.

Liam Murray said...

I'm no expert here and can't recall the detail but isn't the 'Bin Laden' line a reference to different opinions on Pakistan?

I know Obama was critical of US support for Musharaff and McCain has been very quiet on Pakistan - since some observers believe Bin Laden might be there that's a possible explanation for the line...

But I guess if it needs that obscure a explanation....

Unknown said...

Iain - can I ask what policies of McCain's you find particularly appealing?

Anonymous said...

I'm afraid I've wondered if you're "thick" on Labourhome

Anonymous said...

Breaking news:

Sarah Palin to be Republican VP candidate.

Dick the Prick said...

Canny move by Chipper getting Palin - the game Watson, is a foot.

John Kirriemuir - you Sir, are living in the land that God reserved for himself.

Anonymous said...

Anon @ 11.47- Iain Dale, a political moderate?!!!

Anonymous said...

Biden vs Palin! Obama is toast.

@molesworth_1 said...

Don't get what you didn't get about that line. Others above have noted its implication which, to me, seemed as plain as the nose on my face as soon as he'd said it - the only thing that caught my particular attention was its clunky, syntactic peculiarity, but I think he was just skirting round mentioning either Afghanistan or Pakistan with a negative name-check.
The other thing to remember is that last night's speech stands in isolation only until McCain makes
his speech next week & from what I've seen of McCain in front of the cameras in either an 'off-the-cuff' moment or in a big set piece it is going to be well worth waiting up for..;)

Anonymous said...

I've voted Tory since my first election in '87, but if the modern Conservatives are about fawning over a man who dropped bombs on Vietnamese women and children, and sucking up to the mass murdering cretin Saakashvili, I need a new party pronto.

Mrs Thatcher wouldn't have gone to cry over a Georgian madman, but the little boy Cameron does, safe in the knowledge no-one he cares about would be required to defend Georgia or Ukraine if they were part of NATO.

Anonymous said...

i waited up all night, and thought it was ana amzing oratory that dealt with every criticism he's had.

there were 29 policy pledges, he discussed how judgement was more important than experience, he highlighted the McSame nonsense that his rival is putting forward and how McCain simply doesn't get the problems America faces. All in detail.

I must say you're the only pundit I've read or seen who has come away feeling "bemused". Perhaps watch it again?

Anonymous said...

Well, here's me chance to have a good old predict.

McCain will take it. He has chosen the Governor of Alaska to be his running mate and she is a woman. That will swing it for a lot of the infuriated Hillary supporters. Yes, many Americans will vote on principle, the vast majority. But it's the swing voters that you need.

kinglear said...

He won't win. Despite what noone is prepared to say, he is not black enough for the average black voter, and definitely not white enough for the mainstream.And his rhetoric? Yeah great. But does nothing to help anyone - and they really really want that in the heartlands....

Rush-is-Right said...

Obama is almost physically incapable of giving a bad speech.

That's only true if it's written out for him on the teleprompt. Catch him at a press conferance and he's a stumbling buffoon.

Abd while I'm here, Sarah Palin...... brilliant choice. This woman will play very well. I think it's going to be a McCain landslide.

Lola said...

"I love his optimism. I love his speaking style. But I have yet to fall in love with his policies. Largely because I still don't have a clue what they are. And he's only got 69 days to tell me." Mr Dale, you are being seduced. And seduction is just rape with salesmanship. The man is a presentationalist par excellence. He is Clinton. He is Blair. He is out of the Big Brother generation. He is celebrity. He is all that is bad about modern political leadership. And he has no 'vision'.

Chris Paul said...

Do you mean to say Reagan's flip race card and cheesy inexperience?

Obviously Obama was suggesting that unlike Rambo McCain he would treat OBL as a criminal fugitive and not an excuse to twat Iraq and anyone else one's inner redneck would like to see twatted flat.

You know that McCain met Sarah Palin only once before putting her on his undercard? Sad old mumbling goat gets a cold she'd be in charge - OMG.

Letterman said...

'I scratched my head in bemusement. Was I alone in not having a clue what he meant by that?'

He meant that McCain was too eager to divert resources from the search for Bin Laden in Afghanistan and the borders of Pakistan and instead go on a wild goose chase for WMDs in the quagmire of Iraq, which has resulted in the loss of so many lives and served to bring Al Qaeda to fight on a new front - as Obama has explained, more eloquently than I, before.

If you're looking for detail on what Obama will do in office a quick google search will throw up links to his policies on 20+ different areas - here's the economy:

And if your looking for something to be ashamed of look no further than McCain's dog whistle ads purportedly attacking Obama's experience but conveniently using imagery similar to unscrupulous PAC ads and email rumours that try and tie Obama to terrorists and suggest that he's secretly a muslim.

Anonymous said...

they are called "framing speeches". You know this Iain so dont pretend to be naive. For better or worse they are the only ones that get reported in the UK. The policy speeches in the primaries are done in "town hall" talks.